|Summary:||Princess Vhaerys Targaryen emerges from a brief period of seclusion.|
Eight weeks have passed since the last time Princess Vhaerys left her chambers, on a visit to her cousin at the Hightower, from which she returned fuming and full of imprecations against the rulers of Oldtown; since then she has been shut up alone, working at her new book — or so her handmaidens report to anyone who enquires, between tending the bruises which blossom on their fine skin with remarkable frequency since their mistress cloistered herself. She has been amassing notes that book since before the accident in the Vale which claimed the lives of her brother and her dragon, and left her a madwoman beyond grief or understanding: apparently the task of turning her research into a coherent text has put a strain upon her delicate royal nerves.
She is working moreover alone, after dismissing with prejudice Maester Gaeron, her loyal attendant and amanuensis these many years, who was not granted a final interview before being packed off back to the Citadel. He had only a letter from her. And Jaemion Waters, her sworn shield and the captain of her guards, has had not even that: only a silence in which to do as he pleases.
When the summons comes he has perhaps given up on receiving it. One of the girls — it doesn't matter which one — comes to his chamber and, reluctant to cross the threshold, stands in the doorway with the candlelight making a halo of her golden hair, and murmurs that Her Grace will see him now.
In her sitting-room the princess sits cross-legged on a black bearskin rug tearing up papers and feeding them fragment by fragment into the great fire blazing in her red marble hearth. The flames have put no colour into the white skin left bare by her sleeveless gown of cloth-of-gold. The ends of her neat war-braids pool on the fur behind her. She doesn't turn around.
She really ought to have done, though. The reason it took him a little longer than perhaps she might have expected to attend to her once called upon is that he's made quite certain that he looks his best. Well, he would, wouldn't he. Not a hair out of place, or a single crease in his almost monochromatic garments. If there's a scratch or two on a knuckle, at least it's a clean knuckle. And really, the man has to have had some way of spending the last eight weeks. He doesn't immediately make himself known on entering, content to observe the princess for now and verify for himself that she's still alive and well.
'Alive', yes. 'Well' is a matter for conjecture. Her gown hangs looser upon her than it ought to, her always-slender frame on the verge of emaciation. Her long bare arms haven't quite their accustomed muscle tone. And when she looks at him he'll see smudges under her violet eyes, and their colour darkened by the dilation of her pupils… For now she's still gazing fixedly into the flames, sitting nearer to their flickering heat than any ordinary woman would find comfortable on a summer's evening. The only sounds are the fire's crackling, the shifting of logs within it, the slow and deliberate tearing of parchment. Her lap is full of letters. The red ribbons which once bound them up together now make neat parallel strips against the black of the bearskin.
She leaves him waiting just long enough to remind him, subtly, that if it's her pleasure that he wait another eight weeks, so he shall.
Eventually she speaks, in the High Valyrian which is their native tongue; her voice is arid, distant, and thin. "Do you bring me more lies, Jaemion? Or shall I hear truth from your lips? … I will not give another chance."
Jaemion takes a moment to consider this particular trick question before answering, a moment he fills quite usefully by checking the level of wine in the decanter, then pouring out a glass. And then, as an afterthought, a second glass. "What would you hear, Your Grace?" he ventures. He could deny he ever lies to her, but they're both well aware that given his particular hobbies, certain white lies are a matter of necessity, even before one considers the elephant in the room. Her hands appearing occupied, he places her glass of wine at her elbow.
"… You tell me always," Vhaerys agrees bitterly, "what it is I would hear." And she consigns a handful of parchments, some torn and others crumpled and yet others blurred by her own tears, to the fire or else to perdition; and she stands up in the place between red ribbons and red wine.
He's close behind her still, at the edge of the bearskin. Her shield… The princess's hand rises as she turns; she looks at him with those shadowed and accusing Valyrian eyes and backhands him across the face with all her strength. Which isn't great, today, but her feeling has a power all its own. She is wearing a ruby ring on her middle finger; the stone in it cuts open his cheek, leaving a droplet of ruby-red blood welling up upon his skin.
While any other creature in existence would regret that movement, Vhaerys has chosen and cultivated this particular companion wisely. There is that split second of rage behind Jaemion's eyes, a moment when his hand begins to lift in order to retaliate, but it's quickly hidden and replaced with an oddly laconic expression. The hand that might have gripped and choked a dozen other people had they tried anything remotely similar, just touches that droplet of blood, transferring crimson from cheek to finger, and then to his lips. Insolence is its own form of retaliation in this case.
Vhaerys's eyes tighten, locked with Jaemion's. There is rage in her, too — and sorrow — and a pain which must be denied, for to admit it would break her apart. She drew in a sharp breath when she slapped him: she lets it out as steadily as she can (which isn't very) and lowers her hand, forcing it too to deny its discomfort and hang nonchalantly loose-fingered by her side.
"I remember," she informs him in that same distant tone, "everything."
Perhaps soon he'll notice the ring she isn't wearing. The golden dragon biting its own tail, the wedding band twinned with her late husband's, is gone from the third finger of her left hand for the first time since she was fifteen.
Jaemion remains in place for a moment longer, then, all pretences thus shattered, claims Vhaeron's drink for himself, knocking back a good half of it in a single gulp. He licks his lips befre setting the glass down, then dusts off his hands and straightens. "You'll want your wine, then," he decides, giving a nod towards the glass still at her elbow. He's not a man of many words, our Jaemion. If she was expecting deep, philosophical conversation, or a shoulder to cry on, or somebody to offer sympathy… well, she wouldn't be Vhaerys for a start, but more to the point, he'd be the wrong man to ask.
The look Vhaerys gives him as he drinks that wine poured for a man who's been dead sixteen years, suggests a desire to see him burst into flames.
"You find me humourous, Jaemion?" she asks him, very quietly.
"I'm not much given to laughing, Your Grace," Jaemion responds, spectacularly failing to self immolate. "If I were to choose a word, it would be 'resolved'. I find you resolved." He locks eyes, daring her almost, as he takes another sip from the wine.
Such a failure in her service must of course be punished; and perhaps that is why, with another narrowing of her darkened violet eyes, Vhaerys dashes the goblet of wine from her servitor's grasp with a quick, compulsive movement of her already aching hand. She's normally given to obsessive neatness. Today she cares nothing for the clang or the splash. She's normally so controlled. Today she's balancing upon an edge she might just… topple off.
"… I am resolved," she agrees, "upon the truth. And if I hear from your lips any falsehood, any prevarication, any lie, Jaemion — I shall have no further use for you." And she turns from him and stalks the three paces to her favourite chair, to perch upon the edge of that with the jittery alertness, the readiness to attack without warning, of a wounded bird of prey.
"What do they say of me?"
The spilt wine and goblet remain where they lie, glistening in the firelight. Jaemion merely rubs his fingers together to reduce the sting. "They say you're mad," he tells her bluntly, adding for his own sake a half shrug of one shoulder. "But they fear you, so all is right with the world." Because what more could anyone want, really?
The princess bursts out laughing, her unhurt hand clutching at the arm of her chair as mirth shakes her emaciated, golden-gowned figure. "I will remind them," she gasps, "to fear me yet more when I am sane."
The laughter is unsettling. It's not the expected reaction and Jaemion is thrown. His natural response to this is to lightly finger the hilt of the dirk at his hip, taking comfort in the cool metal, and to tuck the other thumb in his belt for an assumed casual look. "I believe," he notes, "that you are as sane as any of us this moment. Shall I find some entertainment?"
Vhaerys's head lolls back at the end of her white neck; as her laughter quietens her shoulders still shake, and her lips twist with the bitterest of amusements… Abruptly her head lifts and her gaze snaps back to meet Jaemion's. "Your beliefs," she informs him — she's certainly not laughing now, "are an irrelevance. Under the guise of serving me and protecting me you have lied to me these sixteen years, and the hour has come for your accounting. You'll entertain me, Jaemion. One way or another you'll entertain me."
She stands, in a swish of golden cloth and golden braids, and prowls a few paces through her sitting-room; she pivots, and those braids whip through the air. "Why did you come to me when you did, on Dragonstone?" she demands. "How did it begin? The truth. You were not," and again there's that twist of her lips, "merely reclaiming your place at my brother’s side."
Jaemion touches his cheek, establishing how dry the blood has become, then produces a (black, naturally) handkerchief from a sleeve, spits into it, and begins to dab away the damage done. "Why did I come to you? Where else would I have gone?" he responds frankly. "And you can hardly deny that I protect you as well as any man could. I was born to serve this house. Of course this is where I am."
Irritation at Jaemion's unsanitary habits purses the princess's lips; she looks away from him, and moving restlessly upon bare feet she finally claims the goblet of wine he poured for her and drinks a single sip. The taste doesn't please her either. Perhaps nothing will, today. "You're a liar," she tells him. "You came to me to serve your own interests. Not my husband's, and not mine."
"My interests and yours are well aligned," Jaemion points out, a brow arching. "I would have thought that the last sixteen years would have made that quite clear."
"What the last sixteen years have made clear," and Vhaerys almost spits out that word — and she vents her feelings by hurling her own goblet away to spill against a white marble wall, "is that when I was at my weakest all those in my service sought to foster and to exploit that weakness."
Jaemion watches the goblet with detached interest as it bounces away and leaves the ruby red liquid dripping down the marble. "Your Grace," he begins, then pauses to think. "Your Grace, you're mistaken. Where do you think you'd be if we'd truly exploited any weakness? No, we have protected you, and will continue to do so." He turns, quite deliberately, away from her, to find and pour wine into another goblet. "Would you like to drink this one or throw it?" he offers as he turns back with it, head tilting in question.
"I'd like to choke you with it," explains Vhaerys, almost pleasantly. "All of you." And then, charmed by the thought, she starts laughing again — laughter with a distracted, almost hysterical edge, as though this woman who for so many years cloaked her imbalance in coolness and precision is now in her sanity making up for lost time. Her braids sway behind her as she resumes her pacing.
"Ah well, we can't always have what we want," Jaemion insists stoically, letting her pace and for himself pulling up a chair. It might be noted that it is not her late brotherhusband's chair. That remains in its place, empty as ever. His gaze rests on her, watching with careful consideration as she paces. What will it be next? Laughter? Violence? Accusations? Or suicidal tendencies? Well, he's here to protect her, if necessary from herself.
Those are not words to speak to a princess.
Vhaerys plants her hands wide apart upon the smooth marble top of the table next to the chair Jaemion has chosen for himself, and leans in. She has the profile of a figurehead on the prow of a warship, bold and beautiful and exquisitely-hewn, presaging destruction. "I did not," she reminds him in a low, warning voice, "invite you to sit in my presence."
Jaemion knows better than to press the matter, rising to his feet in a single movement and dipping his head perhaps a little further than would be strictly polite.
Hardly mollified Vhaerys begins to fling demands instead of goblets — requiring that the captain of her guards, this man so often at her side in reality rather than illusion, this sworn shield born into her household and bred for her service as surely as her handmaidens, account in the harsh, clear light of her new sanity for even the minutest details of his life and his attendance upon her. Perhaps she hopes to choke him with questions, rather than wine. Perhaps her claim to perfect recollection was mendaciously bold. Or perhaps she simply could not have borne one more hour alone in her own mind…